RUSSIA: Nine Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to three to seven years in prison

By Willy Fautré

The European Times NewsThe European Times (07.03.2024) On 5 March, a Russian court in Irkutsk convicted nine Jehovah’s Witness men, sentencing them from three to seven years of prison. The case began in 2021, when officers raided some 15 homes, beating and torturing at least 4 people (details below). Eight of the nine men convicted have been in pretrial detention for nearly 2.5 years, most spending the majority of the time in solitary confinement.  They report receiving 150-200 letters of support from friends and family each month!

  • 7 years — Yaroslav Kalin(54), Sergey Kosteyev (63), Nikolay Martynov (65), Mikhail Moysh (36), Aleksey Solnechniy (47), Andrey Tolmachev (49)
  • 6 years, 4 months – Igor Popov(36) and Denis Sarazhakov (35)
  • 3 years – Sergei Vasiliyev(72)

Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, stated in a press release: “There is no logical reasonable basis for having these good men imprisoned, separated from their wives and friends.  The charges were largely based on secret audio recordings of worship services, where the men were praying, singing Christian songs, and reading from the Bible. Ironically, one of the passages read was Psalm 34:14: “Seek peace and pursue it.” What does it say about a legal system that convicts people of extremist activity for reading a Bible verse that promotes peace? It’s patently absurd. It would be a joke if the consequences weren’t so serious. We implore Russian officials to reconsider its misconceptions about Jehovah’s Witnesses and allow these peace-loving men and women to worship freely in their beloved homeland as Witnesses do in some 240 other lands.”

Case History

October 4, 2021.  About 6 am., dozens of armed national guard officers and special forces soldiers raided 13 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Two men were beaten and tortured (see link to video interview).

  • At the home of Anatolyand Greta Razdobarov, officers forced their way into the couple’s bedroom. The officers dragged Greta by her hair into another room, handcuffed her with her arms behind her back, and repeatedly hit her. Meanwhile, Anatoly was stripped naked, forced to the floor, handcuffed with his arms behind his back, and kicked in the head and abdomen. Officers grabbed his handcuffed hands and wrenched him up off the ground. Anatoly writhed in pain as the weight of his body hyperextended his shoulders. Officers beat his hands while demanding that he incriminate himself and divulge information about the brothers. Officers further tortured him by trying to force a glass bottle into his buttocks. The raid on the Razdobarov’s home lasted over eight hours.
  • At the home of Nikolayand Liliya Merinov, officers entered and immediately struck Nikolay in the face with a heavy, blunt object. He fell to the floor and passed out. Upon regaining consciousness, he found an officer sitting on top of him, beating him. The officer broke Nikolay’s front teeth. Liliya was dragged out of bed by her hair and handcuffed. The officers then repeatedly physically assaulted her before eventually allowing her to get properly dressed.


October 5, 2021. Yaroslav Kalin, Sergey Kosteyev, Nikolay Martynov, Mikhail Moysh, Alexey Solnechniy and Andrey Tolmachev were placed in pretrial detention, while Sergei Vasiliyev was ordered to house arrest.

November 30, 2021. Security officials purposely crashed into Denis Sarazhakov’s car in the yard to get his attention. One of the officials pretended to be drunk. When Denis opened the door to investigate, the officers knocked him to the floor and began to search the home (village of Askiz, Republic of Khakassia).  Dennis was detained and taken 1500 km to Irkutsk. On the same day, at about 3 am., security forces in Mezhdurechensk (Kemerovo Region) raided the home of Igor Popov and detained him.

December 29, 2022. The criminal trial began (See link for additional details).

Nationwide Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and Crimea

Since Russia’s Supreme Court banned the Witnesses’ activities in April 2017

  • 2,083 homes of Witnesses were raided across 74 regions
  • 794 men and women were criminally charged
  • 506 men and women were added to the federal list of extremists and terrorists (Rosfinmonitoring)
  • 415 men and women have spent some time behind bars, with 128 currently in prison.


(*) Note:  The Razdobarovs and Merinovs were not criminally charged, along with the men involved in the 5 March verdict. Both men were involved as Witnesses

Photo : Defendants in the Irkutsk case in the courtroom, April 2023 source:

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website